What is a Jig?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

Originating as a Scottish folk dance, jigs are usually characterized by their use of compound meters. For instance, a double jig is usually transcribed with a 6/8 tempo, while a slip jig is usually transcribed with a meter of 9/8. Scottish versions of this dance come in several different types, with the double jig being among the most popular. One very popular Irish version is the Irish Washerwoman.

The jig is a traditional Scottish dance.
The jig is a traditional Scottish dance.

Just about all jigs are built on a foundation of two eight-bar parts, with each part being repeated at least once. As is true with just about all Scottish music, it is not unusual to string two or more jigs into one continuous play and dance. Dancing is a task that requires a lot of energy and a great deal of enthusiasm. The fast pace of the song makes it a particularly energetic and happy dance, which allowed it to find its way into American slang vernacular with a great deal of ease.

During modern times, many people have used the phrase “dance a jig” when something wonderful has happened in their lives and they wish to express the sense of euphoria they are feeling at the time. Today, even people who have never seen a jig danced nor have any idea of the origins of the phrase understand clearly that this phrase means to be very happy with a course of events.

It is important to note that jigs can be danced individually or as part of a two-person unit. If the dance is danced by a team, the task will require a great deal of coordination between the two partners, as the quick pace of the music and the dance can lead to some interesting twists and turns.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Discussion Comments


@KaBoom - That sounds like a lot of fun. I would love to see a jig. I've been using the phrase "I won't make you get up and dance a jig or anything" for years and I just realized I have no idea what a jig is! The article gives a pretty good description though!


There is a Scottish pub near my parent's house. They host various evening with entertainment. For instance, they do one night where a group comes and sings sea chanty's.

One night when I was there they had a live band and some people got up and started doing a sort of line dance. My parents told me they were actually doing a jig! It looked fun, but I have two left feet so I didn't join it!


My town has an arts festival every year, and music and dancing are always a part of it. Last year, some Scottish dancers put on a show, and yes, they danced a jig.

Their ages varied from twenty to fifty. I was amazed at the level of energy that they all were able to maintain throughout what seemed like a long song.

I spoke with one of the older dancers afterward, and she told me that she had been dancing jigs for decades. She never took a long hiatus from dancing, so she had maintained her ability to keep up the pace.


I have heard the term “dance a jig” all my life, and I knew it meant a happy dance, but I didn’t know its origin. My grandfather used the term a lot.

Whenever someone would do something nice for him, he would tell them, “I will dance a jig at your wedding.” Then, he would illustrate with a goofy, happy dance. I couldn’t help but laugh every time.

I thought he was kidding, but at my wedding reception, he had a surprise for me. He came out in a kilt and actually danced a jig. He had the band play something Celtic, and he danced through the whole song. Everyone laughed and clapped along.

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